[review] Jonghyun’s The Collection “Story Op.1”

2015 has been a big year for solo Jonghyun– he recently gave an interview, in which he said that if he were not a singer, he would be a composer. Jonghyun, you’re already a composer, and actually, not a bad one. Some (Michelle) would say, even a good composer.

1/ End of a Day

When I heard this for the first time, I knew this was the album of ballads that Jonghyun said he was afraid of releasing during Crazy (Guilty Pleasure) promotions. Perhaps not novel, it is clean, fresh, and delicately phrased. A safe, successful first dip.

2/ U & I

More in the style of his BASE album, U & I is lethargically cheery. I am also a big fan of how “bare” the background is, a bit of percussion, a little keyboard synthesizer– the kind of song perfect for a live band. I’ve always thought of Jonghyun’s alter-ego as more punk rock than anything, but after his BASE promotions and now this album, Jonghyun seems to rest more on the indie-instrumental-R&B-soul side.

His “Okay” in the beginning tantalizingly almost sounds like the beginning to EXO’s Playboy.

3/ Like You

This song has bit of an R&B influence; it could as easily have been part of SHINee repertoire if it was “jazzed” up with some electronic synths. The highlight of the song is Jonghyun’s harmonization at 1.21s. 

4/ Diphylleia grayi

This is undoubtedly my favorite song on the album– melancholy, sighing, organic, yet still finely controlled by Jonghyun’s incredible technique. The music itself is not novel– could be inserted in any of the emotional scenes in Winter Sonata very easily– but the beauty of his haunting voice, with very little vibrato, is mesmerizing by itself.

 5/ Happy Birthday

A song of seduction.

6/ I’m Sorry

If I were to use one descriptor to describe this album, it would be “low-key.” Exemplified by I’m Sorry, Jonghyun relies mostly on his emotive power of his voice to carry the album. He has no fancy background music, does not do fancy vocalizations, does not rely on catchy choruses; notably, there is no power falsetto. In a way, it’s strange but also liberating to hear Jonghyun in such a setting.

7/ 02:34

Jonghyun’s own harmonizations with himself are little coaxing sparkles, making a light, airy song even more so. Using his cloyingly soft voice of his, Jonghyun rap-speaks, which has gotten better rhythmically the last time I’ve heard it.

It is a new experience watching Jonghyun grow into his own style, because SM artists are mostly manufactured. This isn’t a criticism, but often we see SHINee’s promotion material musically disconnected from each other as SM hops from trend to trend. However, you can hear/see the threads that bind Jonghyun’s artistry together through each of his releases, and you can even see them beginning to emerge, starting with Sherlock, where SHINee started singing the kind of belty singles that are geared towards singers like Jonghyun (View would be an exception, though the rest of that album and repackage is the belty type; the vocal center of SHINee is undoubtedly Jonghyun).

8/ Fine

This sultry song is my second favorite in this album. It starts off slightly sad, pensive, you can picture clearly in your mind Jonghyun sitting on a stool on some poorly lit stage, snapping his fingers in time. His usage of the phrase “you’re so fine” in English is judicious and blends well with the rest of the song; kpop uses so much English that sometimes it’s hard to step back and think if it is really necessary.

His melismas at 2.17s and 2.22s are awe-inspiring.

9/ Maybe Tomorrow

It seems like a promise that we’ll see more of Jonghyun.

Final word

I couldn’t think of much to write for this review. Jonghyun pays attention to everything, yet at the same time, it seems like he pays no attention to it all, spinning off these phrases so light, so easy, so weightless. While perhaps I don’t like every song, there’s something so natural about this compilation for him. It’s hard to rail against such a meticulous craftsman.

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